When was the best time to be alive?
I've always thought I had pretty much the best of it - born at the end of World War 2, living when our western societies were becoming increasingly wealthy and jobs were easy to come by, and growing into adulthood during the 1960's when there was plenty of idealism and good music (for me, Bob Dylan represented both of those). So I missed the war and the depression, but also missed the pressure of today's mad rush to get a university place and a job while avoiding drugs and depression and shallow relationships.
But Michael Duffy, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, reckons differently. He thinks "the luckiest generation" was the one before mine, which was born in the 1930s. This is how he figures it:
- They missed the great Depression and were too young to serve in the war.
- They would have been buying houses in the 1960s, when, in relation to household income, they cost a third what they do today.
- Society was more stable. "The divorce rate increased in the mid-'70s, a period when crime, single parenthood and chronic forms of mental and physical illness also started to boom. In the '60s only 3 per cent of working age Australians depended on welfare. That figure was to rise to about 16 per cent." Job insecurity also increased.
- He says welfare and tax policies have been shown to have most favoured this generation, especially in retirement.
- Social researcher Hugh Mackay has found that this generation has stronger values: "loyalty, saving, the work ethic, the sense of mutual obligation, and patriotism". These helped them cope less selfishly with the prosperity of the 1960s than a later generation dealt with the prosperity of the 1990s.
- "There has been a sharp increase in fear of all kinds in recent decades", and people have grown less happy. The less stable society, loss of values and decline in religion have all been suggested as reasons for this.
I'm still not sure I agree. Studies indicate that despite the negatives Duffy mentions, Australians are, on average, pretty much just as happy as we were a decade ago and half a century ago, and it is the same generally right around the world. But we are agreed that it is tougher growing up and living today than back then.